I actually missed the first three UFC’s, but I was given them on a VHS tape not long afterwards. I think people training today have a hard time imagining that in those days Brazilian Jiujitsu instruction was not easy to find, and if you wanted to train in it you had to ally yourself with them against the rest of the martial arts world. It was actually sort of a hostile period of time, quite unlike the era of cross training we live in now.
Today, Brazilian Jiujitsu is a very popular (and organized) sport, but in the early days people were interested in it as it related to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Since there was that “US against THEM” mentality, there were those who joined Jiujitsu and then there was the rest of the world; looking at wrestling, Judo, Sambo and anything else they could learn to “counter” Jiujitsu. People became interested in the scene that evolved in Japan out of pro wrestling; UWF, UWFi, Shooto, Pancrase, etc. This also led to interest in “Catch wrestling” and some rather interesting events which I won’t go into in this particular blog.
The thing is, in this initial period, people equated the ground with grappling and submissions. We saw armbars and triangle chokes from your back (the guard). Since people were looking to Japan for information, people became interested in lots of “exotic” submissions; weird leg locks and neck cranks. Early Pancrase “borrowed” professional wrestling “rules” and had only open hand slapping, and pretty much striking was NOT used on the ground.
Of course, the UFC and all the subsequent promotions in the United States that followed it eventually changed the playing field. The Gracie family had always had the idea of getting a mount, or back mount, and striking. Some Brazilians excelled in this (I remember watching Rickson for example). But they usually used the strikes to set up a submission. Increasingly striking to end the match became an end unto itself and people really developed it as a skill.
I was asked by the now defunct USKBA under Paul Rosner to judge an MMA event at Mohegan Sun. It was a Russian team, made up of Sambo trained fighters, against a team of Brazilian Jiujitsu fighters (mostly relocated Brazilians). In the “golden age” of early MMA people would have expected some sort of battle of submissions. The event was rather disappointing; the Jiujitsu fighters all systematically took down the Russians and used “ground and pound” to end the matches. They didn’t even need judges.
Submissions aren’t “dead”, we still see lots of chokes and Ronda Rousey certainly demonstrated that a good old school Jujigatame still had its place in modern MMA. But I think that is exactly the point. The basics, the “bread and butter” submissions still work in MMA. Like most things, the “flash” or the “clinic technique” is never what real fighting is about. It is about BASICS. Writing this blog, I think back to watching a documentary on Holland’s Jon Bluming. His fusion of Kyokushinkai and Judo featured only the most basic of Judo, three or four arm locks and three or four chokes (including lapel chokes).
Go for the bacon, not the sizzle.